When is snoring more than just congestion?
Snoring can affect more than just sleep
Even if you’re not a lumberjack, you’re probably guilty of “sawing wood” every now and again. Sometimes, you may not know you’re doing it until someone else points it out.
Generally speaking, snoring is not harmful. But, if it’s chronic, it can be a sign of something bigger.
“Snoring is caused by an obstruction of the airway while sleeping,” said Michael C. Marino, D.O., medical director of Geisinger Sleep Labs. “There are multiple factors that can cause this obstruction and make your airway smaller. This causes your airway to shake when you breathe. Snoring is normally harmless, but if it is constant, it can mean that you have other health concerns like sleep apnea.”
When to worry about your snoring
When you snore, your airway gets smaller. If you have sleep apnea, it gets smaller yet, causing airway obstruction and disrupting sleep.
“When someone with sleep apnea sleeps, their body wakes up every time the airway is obstructed— which can happen multiple times per hour,” said Dr. Marino. “As a result, they may never fall into deep sleep.”
The tricky thing about sleep apnea is that you may not know you have it. Despite all of the times you wake up, you may not become fully conscious. These micro-arousals can wear out your body and leave you feeling tired—even after a full night’s sleep. As a result, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, obesity, chronic headaches, fatigue, heart attack and stroke.
“Some of the risk factors for sleep apnea include obesity, smoking, being male, family history and use of alcohol and sedatives,” said Dr. Marino. “All of these factors contribute to the size of your airway compared to the muscles and tissue surrounding it. If the muscles and tissue are large or overly-relaxed, they can obstruct the airway while you sleep.”
The only way to tell for sure if you have sleep apnea is to do a sleep study. In a sleep study, doctors can measure how often you wake up per hour with something called an “apnea hypopnea index” to give a diagnosis.
If you do have sleep apnea, doctors will likely prescribe that you use a CPAP machine to open up your airway.
Another possible danger of snoring is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition where your arteries harden with plaques, making it difficult for blood to circulate. Recent studies have shown that the louder and more intense you snore, the more at risk you are for atherosclerosis. However, no definitive link has been found between snoring and atherosclerosis.
If you or someone in your family is a frequent snorer, it’s best to see a medical professional to rule out any potentially harmful conditions.
When to not worry about snoring
Occasional snoring is normal. It happens when you have allergies and congestion that obstruct the airway. It can happen if you are sleeping in a way that tightens your airway—especially if you are sleeping in a cramped space. Additionally, sleeping on your back increases the risk of snoring.
“Snoring can also be a symptom of your unique anatomy,” said Dr. Marino. “If you have a long uvula or soft palette, they can get in the way of your airway. If you are overweight, your throat tissue may be bulkier, which can also obstruct your airway. The same goes for children with large tonsils and adenoids.”
Snoring, especially if infrequent, is not a reason for immediate concern. But if you notice that you or someone else snores every night, it is best to seek professional advice.
Dr. Michael Marino, DO, is a sleep medicine specialist in Bloomsburg. To schedule an appointment, please call 800-275-6401.